Research projects

Research projects in the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments

An overview of the research projects undertaken by members of the WHO Collaborating Centre:

Our planet, our health award (2016-2019) - Factoring long-term health impacts into urban development

This project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will quantify current and future health costs and benefits of urban environments, helping to make health impacts a priority in urban  development planning.

What the project will do:

  • Conduct a literature survey to quantify the health costs and benefits of different aspects of urban environments.
  • Use this economic information to gain a better understanding of how to create healthy urban environments.
  • The researchers will collaborate with urban development agencies – such as city authorities – to explore barriers and opportunities for such work.
  • A panel of experts in urban development, policy and impact will support the research.

View full details on the Wellcome Trust project

Re-uniting planning and health: Tackling the implementation gaps in evidence, governance and knowledge, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The ESRC has funded a major interdisciplinary seminar series in 2015 with an overall aim of considering how public health can contribute to urban planning and the delivery of healthy sustainable communities. This series offers a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss the obstacles to reuniting planning and health and identify workable and economically viable solutions that help deliver health outcomes, wellbeing and equity in cities and neighbourhoods.

The series was organised by the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environment at UWE Bristol in collaboration with Public Health England (PHE) and partners from the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, Cardiff University, Newcastle University, Bristol University.

This ESRC seminar series supported Public Health England's Healthy People, Healthy Places.

Three interlinked core themes were explored in the series:

  1. Public health evidence for spatial planning: who should supply health evidence to planners and what should be the coverage, scale and presentation of public health evidence to meet the needs of spatial planning?
  2. The governance of health and planning: what are the key features of governance and policies to ensure the reuniting of health and planning priorities?
  3. The development of a shared knowledge base through training and professional development: what type of training should be made available to future generations of healthy planners and communities, who should deliver it?

It was intended that the seminar series would be a stepping stone towards an ongoing dialogue between research and practice and would help identify a future agenda for research and capacity building.

Healthy Communities Research Forum: Opportunities in change

Duration: January 2011-May 2013

Sponsor: NHS South West

Project leader for WHO CC: Sarah Burgess

This project saw a series of five fora aimed at exploring opportunities during a time of policy and organisational transition in public health and local planning. The intention was to build a network of practitioners and researchers seeking to take advantage of this period of change to ensure better outcomes for the wider determinants of health though spatial planning, transport investments and regeneration proposals.

The forum sought to stimulate ideas and help build a constituency of support and commitment at UWE Bristol and, within the region, an integrated approach to health and sustainable development, through:

  • providing a forum for discussion of important research/practice issues in relation to health, well-being and the future of settlements, drawing explicitly on both research and practice expertise and insights
  • drawing together different communities of interest: public health, community development and safety, spatial planning, built environment, urban design, environmental science etc, and thus a bridge between faculties, disciplines and professions

Healthy people healthy places evidence tool – Evidence and practical linkage for design, planning, policy and health

Public Health England commissioned a literature review on the impacts of the built environment on health as well as a series of practical diagrams that illustrate the linkages, and strength of evidence, between spatial planning and health.

For more information, please contact Dr Paul Pilkington (

Making the case for investment in the walking environment

Duration: March 2011-May 2011

Sponsor: Living Streets

Project leader for WHO CC: Sarah Burgess

This project involved a comprehensive literature review to provide the evidence based for investment in the walking environment. The team primarily reviewed three types of evidence:

  • cross-sectional studies in the academic literature examining the relationship between neighbourhood characteristics (eg density, connectivity, mix of use, public realm) and walking levels, health and well-being
  • evaluation studies of specific interventions aimed at improving the walking environment (eg home zones, shared use paths, 20 mph limits, Sustainable Travel Towns)
  • cost-benefit analyses and assessments of the cost effectiveness of investment in the walking environment.

The review also included a summary of the health, social, environmental and economic benefits of increased levels of walking.

The evidence from the cross-sectional studies shows utility walking levels are greater in places with mixed land uses, greater population density and street connectivity and provision of facilities for pedestrians. Recreational walking is influenced most by aesthetical quality of the walking environment.

Evaluations of walking interventions generally demonstrate positive road safety outcomes and positive user perceptions and high values for money have been estimated for these interventions compared to other transport interventions.

Introducing health as a driver for sustainability in the architectural curriculum

Duration: January 2011-July 2011

Sponsor: Centre for Education in the Built Environment

Project leader for WHO CC: Elena Marco

This project sought to introduce health into the architectural curriculum as a major driver for sustainable design and to establish a health-related cross-professional development programme for healthy urban environments, which will be disseminated across the higher education sector.

Increasingly, evidence has shown that health risk is linked to issues such as obesity, climate change, access to good quality local food, community infrastructure, air quality and noise pollution. As such, the built environment is seen as an important determinant of health. So, the professionals responsible for our built environment need to understand the connections of their actions to public health and their ability to influence the health and well being of the population. Educational institutions therefore need to be equipped to deliver health-aware architects.

CABE, in "Future health: sustainable places for health and well-being" (2009), says that for a good design we don’t only need to modernise the healthcare system, but also need to promote health and wellbeing through encouraging the design of sustainable places. Health, well-being and the environment are interdependent and we need to take care to design for them together. Enabling healthy lifestyles means saving health treatment costs, especially important in the context of an aging population.

This was achieved through a pilot study which incorporated a ‘health practitioner in residence’ into the postgraduate design studio. Through an extremely strong and focussed programme of dissemination, it was expected that, once the pilot study was complete and the ideas it generated have been developed, the scheme can be rolled-out across the country, creating a new generation of health-aware architects who design healthier and more sustainable buildings as a result.

Healthy planning audit: South West Public Health/South Gloucestershire District Council

Duration: October 2010-February 2011

Sponsor: Government Office for the South West

Project leader for WHO CC: Sarah Burgess

This project involved the development of a methodology which facilitated an audit of local authorities to establish the level of individual understanding about health and the degree to which health is considered and prioritised in processes and decisions.

The purpose of this project was to develop and pilot a methodology that can be used to get a better understanding of how health and well-being are integrated into planning and planning processes within a local authority and to establish to what degree individual local authority officers and members understand health issues and use existing guidance to help shape their judgment and decisions. Through undertaking this process, opportunities to deliver better health either via improving individual knowledge or skills or via organisational processes and policies will be identified.

The audit was undertaken in a single day, with interviews conducted with individuals across different departments and at all levels (including members). A report to senior management then identified opportunities to deliver better health outcomes.

Integration of health

Duration: October 2009-October 2011

Sponsor: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

Project leader for WHO CC: Dr Laurence Carmichael

The WHO Centre, as part of a cross-disciplinary UWE Bristol team, has been commissioned by NICE to review evidence on the integration of health into the planning system both in the UK and abroad to inform its guidance on health and planning. The seven reviews focussed on appraisal methods, health-related spatial planning indicators and design guidance, and other good policy and governance practices in the UK and from elsewhere that would be relevant to the British experience.

The purpose of the research was to find evidence from UK and overseas experiences on the methods used for integrating health into the spatial planning process and their effectiveness and cost effectiveness. The focus was both on project and plan appraisal and on spatial planning as a whole.

A mixed methodology approach to address the research questions including systematic review of evidence and case study research focussing on policy, governance and institutional analysis.

The aim of the case studies was to examine good practice in the UK and from elsewhere that would be relevant to the British experience - examples that were innovative, successful, transferable and sustainable.

PLAN-ED: Educating planners for the new challenges of sustainability, knowledge, and governance

Duration: September 2010-August 2012

Sponsor: European Commission

Project leader for WHO CC: Dr Laurence Carmichael

The challenges posed to sustainability by the combination of global environmental, political and socioeconomic shifts call for innovative planning and policy solutions. It is critical to rethink the way in which planning education adapts and responds to these new challenges.

This two-year policy project (September 2010 to August 2012) drew from the strength and specialisations of four schools of planning and from the commonalities and differences between the four cities and the regions (Bristol, Hannover, Richmond and Portland) in which they are situated and have developed knowledge and practice networks.

The consortium is composed of two EU and two US universities:

  • UWE Bristol, Department of Planning and Architecture (now known as School of Architecture and Environment) (EU Project Leader)
  • Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, Faculty of Architecture and Landscape (LUH)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs (U.S. Project Leader) (VCU)
  • Portland State University, Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning

The main purpose of the collaborative project PLAN-ED was the enhancement of planning education in Europe and the United States through the international exchange of planning knowledge, methodologies, and practices and the tuning of competences and learning outcomes in urban and regional planning degree-granting institutions.

The project represented a platform for promoting the comparability, transparency, and interchangeability of knowledge, practices, and skills taught in planning schools in different international and geo-political contexts. The model that emerged from this project was intended to benefit not only its original participants, but also other planning degree-granting institutions and the communities that they serve.

The main goals of the proposed effort were to:

  • enhance the curriculum of each participating institution through knowledge sharing and faculty exchange
  • develop a model and set of teaching tools to be adopted in the long run by other planning institutions in order to tune learning outcomes and planning competences transnationally
  • promote the exposure of visiting faculty to local planning practices and solutions to be critically evaluated and integrated in the planning curricula of their respective institutions

The project activities included faculty travel to partner institutions, guest lectures, site visits, meetings with local practitioners, joint submissions of papers to academic and professional journals, presentations at annual professional meetings, and planning for long-term activities – for example, webinars and distance learning tools.

In particular, these activities culminated in four rounds of seminars, organised in turn by each partner. Local planning and policy settings provided the backdrops for the seminars. The seminars, consisting of presentations and interactive workshops, were directly linked to the planning, policy, and educational challenges of the host institution’s context. Local urban planning students and faculty, key stakeholders, and practitioners were invited to participate and contribute to seminars.

Each of the four seminars focused on one of the following substantive policy and planning areas relevant to sustainability:

  • sprawl, growth management, and affordable housing
  • urban regeneration, poverty alleviation, and social inclusion
  • environmental planning and public health
  • governance and planning decision-making, community participation, equity and social inclusion

World Health Organisation Collaboration Centre

WHO Collaborating Centre are recognised as a leader in the emerging field of healthy urban planning. 


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